Sunday, May 31, 2015

Enjoying a Few Days Off

As I mentioned on Friday, I'm up visiting my family this weekend, and I'm having a wonderful time.  Everything with my hot water heater at home seems to be under control thanks to a great plumber and a couple of very helpful roommates.  The result has been a quiet blog, but I will be back on Tuesday with a review and giveaway, so be sure to check back in then.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

May 30th's Weekly TV Thoughts

Not much TV this week, which is usually the case this time of year with the end of May sweeps.  And this summer is looking lighter than normal, which will be a nice break before the fall season comes back and I am swamped by more shows than ever.  Seriously, I don't know how I will ever keep up.  But that's to worry about later.  Right now, here's what I did watch this week.

America Ninja Warrior – It always kills me when the favorites or the ones who have gone far in the past get eliminated so easily and so early.  I think part of it is just how hard the course is.  On the other hand, I love seeing the rookies complete the course.  Overall, I’m thrilled the show is back.

Young and Hungry – I’m very intrigued by that ending.  Are they going to do a one year time jump?  Or will she wind up coming back sooner than that?

Friday, May 29, 2015

May 29th's Book Beginnings and Friday 56

For a short week, this has been a long and stressful week.  But I'm heading up to visit my family this weekend, so I have that to look forward to.

Before I do, here's this week's Book Beginnings and Friday 56.  This week, I'm featuring Truffled to Death by Kathy Aarons. (Which I haven't even gotten to read in today - yet.  That's the kind of day Thursday was.)

And it begins like this:

"It's so beautiful," I practically cooed at the plain clay bowl sitting just inches from my face behind the glass.  My fingers were itching to hold it.

Jumping to page 56, we find:

I couldn't help but imagine that he'd left the country with the goods from the robbery,

Have a great weekend, everyone.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Book Review: Assaulted Pretzel by Laura Bradford (Amish Mysteries #2)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Amazing characters and a good mystery
Cons: Romantic triangle a little strong for my tastes.
The Bottom Line:
A toymaker’s death
Brings us back to characters
You will quickly love

Festival, Toys, and Murder

After discovering just how strong the Amish Mysteries by Laura Bradford are, I knew I had to read the second in the series soon.  That’s why Assaulted Pretzel jumped several places up my to be read mountain range.  I’m glad it did because this was another great book.

The series features Claire Weatherly, who has moved to the town of Heavenly, Pennsylvania, in Amish country.  She’s living with her aunt and running a gift shop that sells Amish created items.  Through the shop, she’s made several friends in the Amish community, including Esther, her employee, and Benjamin, the handsome man whose sister runs the bakery next door.  She’s also friends with Jakob, the handsome detective who left this very Amish community years ago and has been shunned as a result.

Claire has been hearing about an annual Amish Food Festival ever since she moved to Heavenly, so she is excited it has finally arrived.  She is looking forward to spending the day sampling Amish food and chatting with her new friends.  Unfortunately, some of the festive spirit has left thanks to a leaked memo that reports that Rob Karble, who was in town to sign a deal to distribute Amish made toys via his toy company, is planning to use his own workers and plants instead of local workers like he’d originally promised.

However, things take a dramatic turn when Rob is found murdered behind one of the booths.  With multiple people in the Amish community affected by Rob’s change of plans, Claire once again finds herself helping Jakob, navigate the investigation.  Will one of her Amish friends be convicted?

Once again, I found myself drawn into this book by the vivid and real characters.  After two books, I love them and can’t wait to spend time with them again.  My heart breaks for a few of the characters as the book progresses, and I have to keep reading to see if they can overcome the obstacles in their lives.  And yes, the suspects introduced for this book are just as strong as the returning characters.

Part of these characters being so real is the reactions we see to the murder.  Because we see how it affects a wide variety of people, the pace might be a tad slower than I would normally enjoy.  The tradeoff is completely worth it because it makes the characters that much richer, so this isn’t really a complaint at all.

On the other hand, I did grow a little weary of the romantic triangle in this book.  Claire isn’t quite ready to pursue a romance, yet she is drawn to both Benjamin and Jakob, who are equally interested in her.  Benjamin being Amish produces even more obstacles.  Even though all this annoyed me at times, with how that storyline is left, I can’t wait to see what happens in the next book.  I know, I know, a complete contradiction, right?

And what about the mystery itself?  I’m glad you asked.  As the book progresses, it continues to build with some nice twists and surprises.  I thought I had the killer pegged early on, but I began to question my guess the further into the book I got.  When the killer was revealed, the solution was completely logical.

I’ve already purchased the third in the series and am planning to get to it soon.  If you are looking for a mystery story you will get lost in, look no further than Assaulted Pretzel.

Want to fully appreciate the character development?  Read the Amish Mysteries in order.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

TV Show Review: Boy Meets World - Season 3

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Lots of laughs and great episodes
Cons: None worth mentioning
The Bottom Line:
Cory, Topanga
Finally begin dating
In this fun season

“Let’s Go Watch TV in the Other Room.”  “TV’s Not Funny.  Cory’s Life’s Funny.”

Since I started Boy Meets World late in its run, I’ve been waiting for these early seasons to officially start Cory and Topanga dating.  That’s one of the major storylines of the delightful season 3, and there are plenty of laughs to be had over the course of the season.

In the very first episode of the season, it’s the first day back at school and Cory Matthews (Ben Savage) has decided it’s time to ask out Topanga Lawrence (Danielle Fishel).  However, he can’t quite work up the nerve, so his best friend Shawn Hunter (Rider Strong) steps in in a most unusual way.  Over the course of the season, they deal with the rocky road of being a couple, including what happens when one of them says “I love you,” dealing with another girl coming on to Cory, loyalties to friends versus each other, and trying to create a great first New Year’s together.

Of course, that’s not the only thing happening this season.   Cory’s older brother Eric (Will Friedle) is graduating from high school and trying to get into a college with some help from Mr. Feeny (William Daniels).  In pursuit of that, Eric lands an internship at a local TV station.  Shawn is living with their English teacher, Jonathan Turner (Anthony Tyler Quinn), while his dad searching the country for his mom, and the two of them need to navigate their new relationship at home and school.  It only gets more complicated when Shawn gets a pet pig (for one episode).  We also add a third main teacher to the school when Mr. Turner’s friend Eli (Alex Desert) gets a job teaching media.  And Cory and Eric find themselves throwing a last minute anniversary party for their parents Alan and Amy (William Russ and Betsy Randle), instead of the rave they had planned to throw.  Being the DisNerd that I am, I can’t leave out a fun if improbably trip to Disney World that happens late in the season as well.

The season is filled with laughs.  I found the situations more realistic and funnier than some of the episodes last season, and I enjoyed just about every episode.  Even when they do get more serious with Shawn’s family situation or an episode focusing on Mr. Feeny late in the season, it earns those moments and still surrounds them with laughs.

I do feel like the episodes, which are presented here in their original air date order, are out of order a couple of times.  It’s not that big a deal since the storylines are minor as they carry over from one episode to another, but it does annoy a little.

This is also the season that Cory’s younger sister Morgan gets a new actress.  After not being seen for most of the season, she pops up about two thirds of the way through played by Lindsay Ridgeway.  Her first scene is classic and hilarious.  That’s part of the overall effort to age the characters since Cory starts out in eighth grade, but seems to be fifteen by the end of the season.  Or am I not supposed to pay attention to things like that?  Frankly, it’s another minor issue since the laughs are still strong, and that’s the most important thing.

I can’t help but keep comparing these episodes to the ones airing when I started watching late in season 5.  In fact, I started watching about the time that Cory and Topanga broke up that season, and Shawn was so upset by it.  They break up in this season as well, and instead of doing everything possible to get them back together, Shawn is trying to help Cory move on.  Funny how things changed in two seasons, isn’t it?

All the actors do great in their parts this season, and their deliveries and reactions lead to some great laughs.  This also rings true for Cory’s parents.  They don’t have as many storylines of their own this season, but their scenes are always great.  Special guest stars this season include The Monkees, and in a fifty’s Happy Days tribute show, Tom Bosley and Anson Williams as themselves with Pat Morita popping up in the episode as well.

All 22 episodes of season 3 are present on this three disc set in full frame and stereo sound, aka their original broadcast specifications.  For a sitcom, you don’t need more than that really.  There does seem to be some volume issues with occasional drops.  It’s annoying, but not super bad.  The only extra is a trivia game based on the season you’ve just watched.

So you don’t need to get this season for the extras, but season 3 is filled with laughs.  I’m enjoying this trip back through Boy Meets World.

Season 3 Episodes:
1. My Best Friend’s Girl
2. The Double Life
3. What I Meant to Say
4. He Said, She Said
5. Hometown Hero
6. This Little Piggy
7. Truth and Consequences
8. Rave On!
9. The Last Temmptation of Cory
10. Train of Fools
11. City Slackers
12. The Grass is Always Greener
13. New Friends and Old
14. A Kiss is More Than a Kiss
15. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
16. Stormy Weather
17. The Pink Flamingo Kid
18. Life Lessons
19. I Was a Teenage Spy
20. I Never Sang for My Legal Guardian
21. The Happiest Show on Earth
22. Brother-Brother

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Book Review: Death by Coffee by Alex Erickson (Bookstore Cafe Mysteries #1)

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Krissy and the suspects, decent plot
Cons: Weak series characters and humor
The Bottom Line:
The premise sounds fun
But execution does not
Fulfill that promise

Who Puts Peanuts in Coffee?

When Death by Coffee crossed my path, I immediately knew I had to read it since the plot teaser sounded like it was right up my alley.  Sadly, it didn’t live up to its potential.

Looking to branch out on their own, best friends Krissy and Vickie have moved away from their Southern California home and opened a combined coffee shop and bookstore in Pine Hills.  Vickie even has the bright idea to name it after one of Krissy’s Dad’s bestselling books, Death by Coffee.  Unfortunately, business on their first morning is slow.  Painfully slow.  In fact, Brandon Lawyer is one of their few customers.  He gets his coffee in a to go cup, walks back to his insurance office across the street, and dies a few minutes later.

Naturally, the rumors start flying about their coffee, but Brandon actually dies from his peanut allergy, something that he definitely didn’t pick up from their shop.  Being raised by a mystery writer father has made Krissy naturally curious, and she begins to investigate, hoping to catch the killer.  Can she do it?

The plot was actually fairly decent.  Krissy might have rehashed what she’d learned a time or two, but it wasn’t that bad.  We could have used one more good suspect to add another twist or two to the story, but that’s a minor complaint.  The solution was logical and suspenseful.

My problem begins with the characters.  Vickie is fairly flat even though she’s obviously going to be a series regular.  The suspects fared better as did Krissy.  Yet other series regulars were as flat as Vickie.  And don’t get me started on Rita, a fan of Krissy’s father who is completely obnoxious.  Seriously, I was rooting for Rita to be killed.

Then there’s the humor that was advertised in the book.  Much of it is supposed to come from Krissy making a fool out of herself.  I’m still not a fan of embarrassment humor, so I found myself cringing more than laughing here.  When Krissy’s not making mistakes, she has her cat, Misfit, there to embarrass her.  Now, I know I’m not a cat person, but seriously, I would have gotten rid of that cat ages ago if I were Krissy.

It’s not that the book was bad, but it wasn’t truly good either.  I hate to give an average grade to a debut from a new author, but Death by Coffee truly earns it.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Monday, May 25, 2015

What's on My Nightstand - May 2015

With the holiday today, I almost forgot to do my What's On My Nightstand post for the month.  Can't have that, now can we?

I am currently half way through Death of a Chocolate Cheater by Penny Pike (aka Penny Warner).  This is the second Food Festival Mystery, and I'm enjoying it.  The beginning was a bit slow, but it's really picked up.

On deck is Truffled to Death by Kathy Aarons, the second in her Chocolate Covered Mysteries.  I read the first a few months back and enjoyed it, so I'm really looking forward to this one as well.

After that, I've got Farmed and Dangerous by Edith Maxwell.  No chocolate, and the third in a series.  See, I'm mixing it up.

Meanwhile, I'll be listening to A is for Alibi by Sue Grafton on audio while I drive to visit family.

From there?  I'm not completely sure what I will be reading the rest of the month.  I have a list of books I'm hoping to get to, including the next Trixie Belden to read and review, but I just haven't decided what I'll grab next.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Book Review: Book of the Dead by Michael Northrop (TombQuest #1)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong action
Cons: Set up is a little slow
The Bottom Line:
Ancient doors open
Danger, excitement come out
Slow start leads to thrills

The Mummy for Kids

At the LA Times Festival of Books last month, I only bought a few mysteries.  However, I bought a lot of Middle Grade Books thanks to two panels I attended.  One of those new to me authors was Michael Northrop, and Book of the Dead gets his new TombQuest series off to a great start.

Alex Sennefer has been sick all of his life, but it is getting worse.  In fact, after a particularly rough couple of days, he is rushed to the hospital, where the prognosis is not good.

And then Alex makes a miraculous recovery.  But he wakes up to strange stories happening all over the world.  Might it have to do with the recently found artifacts in the Egyptian exhibit his mother was setting up?  Can Alex and his best friend, Ren, help stop the evil that has been unleashed?

Based on the cover and plot description, I was expecting something along the lines of The Mummy (the new one from 2001), and I wasn’t disappointed at all.  The set up was a bit slow since it was obviously fairly early on just what would happen, but once we got past that set up, it turned into an exciting ride.  A couple of the scenes got my heart pumping and gave me sweaty palms.  The easily frightened might not want to read it, but kids looking for an adrenaline rush will absolutely love it.

The characters weren’t yet fully developed, but I wasn’t that surprised since this is a 200 paged action heavy story.  I cared enough for them to care about the outcome, and I am sure we’ll see more development as the series progresses.

Most of the book are told from Alex’s third person point of view, but we get a few parts from the point of view of Ren and even Alex’s mom.  They helped flesh out the story and rounded out those characters as well.

The ending of this book sets up the next one, and I’m expecting it to be another exciting thrill ride.  If you want a page turning read based on Egyptian mythology, Book of the Dead is definitely for you.

This review is part of this week's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Weekly TV Thoughts - May 23rd

It's like May sweeps ended on Wednesday or something.  It's actually been weird the last couple of days without a lot of TV to watch.

Dancing with the Stars – I pretty much agree with the judges and the results.  As much as I loved Noah (and what wasn’t to love?), he just isn’t quite as good as the other two.  I honestly couldn’t decide between Ryker and Rumor, so I would have been happy with either of them winning, and Rumor’s win was great.

The Flash – Wow.  Just wow.  I don’t know why I was expecting anything less from the show, which has been amazing all season.  There were so many emotional moments, and the cast pulled them off brilliantly.  But that last act, between Barry and his mom and Eddie’s sacrifice.  Just wow!  And that’s the worst cliffhanger of the season, too.

Young and Hungry – I must admit, I was surprised at this.  I expected Cooper to be around another few episodes.  And, since I’m new to the show, I didn’t know about the event that Cooper used against Josh in the cliffhanger.  Interesting development for sure.

Survivor – I’ll admit, I’d gotten so I was rooting for Mike after my comment about no one being worthy of winning a few weeks back.  I’m so thrilled to see him win.  Yep, still rooting for the underdog, I guess.  And what does it say about me that I don’t remember who most of the people are who are on the second chances cast next season?  Oh well, I’ll remember who most of them are fairly quickly, I’m sure – at least the most memorable ones.

Friday, May 22, 2015

May 22nd's Book Beginnings and Friday 56

Well, it's about that time in the week - time for Book Beginnings and Friday 56.

This week, I'll be pulling quotes from my current read - Assaulted Pretzel by Laura Bradford.

This is the second in her Amish Mystery series.  I'm fast approaching the half way point, and it's as great as the first.

But the review will come next week.  For now, let's get to the quotes.  Here's how the book begins:

Claire Wheatherly was just reaching for a slice of Ruth Miller's second-to-none Shoo Fly Pie when she heard it - the slow rolling rumble of an approaching storm that threatened to put a kibosh on the treat she'd been hankering for all week.  Shielding the plate with her body, she dove her fork into the gooey goodness and - ...

Yes, that is actually how the first paragraph ends.  So maybe I'm being a little mean, but there you have it.

I'm actually going to skip to page 58 for the next quote.  Not really anything good on page 56.  But on page 58, there's this:

The more formal greeting died on her lips at the sight of Jakob standing just inside the shop's front door with a camera in one hand and a pair of gloves in the other.

So there you have it.  I'm hoping to finish this book on Saturday, and with how quickly it is going, I don't see that being a problem.

Hope you have a great long weekend, even if that means a few hours doing nothing but reading.  That's definitely in my plans for the weekend.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Book Review: As Gouda as Dead by Avery Aames (Cheese Shop Mysteries #6)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Colorful characters and a good mystery
Cons: Characters can spend a bit too long spinning theories
The Bottom Line:
Bar owner murdered
Makes stakes personal for all
Another great read

As Gouda as Ever

I spent some reading time last year catching up on the books of Avery Aames, and when As Gouda as Dead, the latest Cheese Shop Mystery came out, I intended to read it right away so I could stay up to date.  Here it is three months later and I’m finally getting it read.  Yes, someday my TBR problem will be conquered.

For those unfamiliar with the series, they are set in a small Ohio town and feature Charlotte Bessette, the owner of a cheese shop in town.  The crime rate in town seems to be going up since this is the sixth in the series, and Charlotte has the unfortunate habit of getting involved in the growing number of murders in town whether she wants to or not.

It’s days before Charlotte and Jordan Pace are to finally wed when tragedy strikes.  Tim O’Shea, the well-loved owner of the Irish bar in town, is found drowned in the cheese vat on Jordan’s cheese farm.  Many of their friends are deeply impacted, and it bothers Charlotte and Jordan enough that they decide to postpone the wedding.  With the added free time, Charlotte decides to dig in and find the killer.  But who would have motive to kill Tim?

I was actually surprised when I realized who the murder victim was going to be in this book since Tim has been a supporting player in the series.  We usually only see him for a scene or two, but it’s unusual to have someone like that be murdered in a series like this.  I found it gave me more of an emotional stake in the outcome, which I really liked.  Yes, there were still the fun sub-plots to help lighten the mood overall.  All told, the tone balanced out perfectly.

There is a large cast of characters.  Honestly, if I hadn’t read most of the series last year, I’m not completely sure I would have them all straight only because there are so many of them.  We got to see some interesting growth in some of them, and another couple were shown in a different light.  Of course, the book is filled with suspects in the latest case, and all of them are interesting as well.

As can often be in the case, the characters throwing out theories can overwhelm the clues and red herrings.  Yes, we talk to the suspects, but then the wild speculation starts.  However, that’s a minor complaint.  Overall, the plot progresses well to its logical and suspenseful climax.

And there are the recipes.  We get a half dozen new recipes that feature cheese – everything from Cheese Pops to Goat Cheese Cookies.  That’s a good thing because reading the book makes your mouth water for cheese.  I’m even thinking about visiting my local cheese shop and trying a few new varieties.  (No really, I mean it this time.)  And in the non-cheese department, there’s a Triple-Chocolate Pudding that sounds amazing.  

For fans of this series, reading As Gouda as Dead is an easy decision.  Personally, I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next to Charlotte and her friends and family.

New to the series?  You'll want to read the rest of the Cheese Shop Mysteries in order.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Ornament Review: 1950 - Treasure Island Premiers - Moments That Made Disney #9 - 2015 Disney Store Ornament

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Details and base make the ornament fun
Cons: Bust of a pirate not exactly Christmassy
The Bottom Line:
A live action first
Ornament is not a bust
Thanks to the fun base

This Ornament is More of a Treasure Than Expected

While Disney had dabbled in live action film making his entire career (his early Alice shorts combined a live action girl in an animated world and much of Song of the South was live action after all), but it wasn’t until 1950’s Treasure Island that he produced his first full length live action film.  That’s a true milestone, so it was obvious that Treasure Island's premiers would be one of the Moments that Made Disney ornaments.

But I’m sure those behind the ornament series wondered just how to represent it.  What they finally hit upon might seem a little odd, but it really does work.  We get a bust of Long John Silver.  He’s wearing his black hat and red jacket.  He’s looking slightly to his right, and he’s got his green parrot perched on his right shoulder.

A bust of a pirate as an ornament?  I’m not sure I’d normally pick it up, and this wasn’t one of the series I was really looking forward to purchasing, but I also can’t picture what else they’d do.  A ship would be too boring.  It was going to have to be a figure of some kind, and I’m picturing an ornament that would be slightly small if they went with a full person.  As a bust, this ornament seems about right.

As to character, could they have picked a better one to represent the film?  Everyone knows Long John Silver, and his behavior has influences our stereotype of pirates for decades.  Including the parrot and the sneer on his face are fun touches.  On the other hand, the size of the bust makes it a little large for a Christmas tree.  It’s not like some of the other pop culture ornaments you can hide in your tree.  This one jumps out and demands your attention to something non-Christmassy.

But it’s the base that really makes this ornament work for me.  The bust is on a circular base that has Treasure Island written on it.  And that base?  A tan sand color.  In the base, there are little bits of sparkles and glitter as well as gems and gold pieces to catch the light.  That detail makes the ornament so much better than it would have been otherwise.

That base is also flat, so you can set the ornament out for Talk Like a Pirate Day or any other time you want.  There is a red ribbon slipped through the loop on Long John’s head, and if you use it, you’ll find the ornament hangs straight.

No, this isn’t the best ornament in the series, but the little details make it so much better than it could have been.  This is the way to mark the milestone that is Treasure Island's premiers.

Be sure to check out the rest of the Moments that Made Disney series.

Original Price: $19.95

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Book Review: Death by the Dozen by Jenn McKinlay (Cupcake Bakery #3)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Good mystery and sub-plots populated by great characters
Cons: Pacing a little off at one point, but minor
The Bottom Line:
A killer contest
Mel, Angie baking for lives
Mouthwatering read

Enjoyable as a Dozen Cupcakes

With so many wonderful series out there, I know a few slip through the cracks.  I’m working hard on catching up on Jenn McKinlay’s Cupcake Bakery mysteries.  With each book I read, I can see why I hear such good things about it.  Death by the Dozen was another great read.

It’s time for the annual food festival in Scottsdale, and that includes the chef’s challenges.  This year, Melanie Cooper and Angie DeLaura have entered in the pastry division.  Their competition includes their rival, Olivia Puckett, who has won for the past few years.  Among the judges are several people that Mel knew from culinary school.  The egos on the judging panel remind Mel why she didn’t like these people back when she was taking classes from them or with them.  The exception is Vic Mazzotta.  True, he is a demanding man, but he also helped Mel through a difficult time, and she is willing to put up with him because of that softer side.

The morning of the first round of the competition, Vic is nowhere to be found.  When he does turn up, he’s dead in an ice truck.  How did he get in there?  Which of his enemies killed him?  Or was it even murder?

The murder took place a little later in the book than normal for the books I’ve been reading lately, but I didn’t mind in the least.  The time was used to set up suspects and motives, and I actually liked the change in formula.  Once Vic’s body was found, we were able to jump in and work on figuring out which of the suspects actually did it.  I did feel the pacing was a little off in the middle with the competition slowing things down, but a late twist ramped things up again for the great climax.  Because of Olivia, I actually cared more about the outcome of the chef contest than I might have otherwise.  I think I’m going to have to skim that first book again to remember why she hates Mel and Angie so much.

The characters in this series are quite fun.  In another break from formula, the main character’s romance is not the most complicated.  Instead, it’s her best friend Angie and their mutual friend Tate who cause most of the romantic sub-plot issues.  And yes, it is kept to a sub-plot.  While I had hoped that Marty, a character we met in the last book, would be back, instead we got Oz, a great new character.  Now I want both of them back in future books.

There is a delightful sense of humor in the series that I love it so much.  And I was thrilled to get a couple of the movie quotes that Mel, Angie, and Tate are always trading.

All the unique recipes that Mel creates for the contest are in the back of the book.  While I never thought I’d hear myself say this considering the ingredients involved, a couple of them actually sound good enough to try.  Now, I just need to get motivated to actually bake again.

I’m already looking forward to my next stop by Mel and Angie’s bakery.  If they are all as enjoyable as Death by the Dozen, I have a lot more great reading in my future.

Once you get started, you'll want to read the rest of the Cupcake Bakery Mysteries in order.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Second Winner of the Week

Yes, I didn't get the winner of One Foot in the Grape posted last night.  I had too much else going on to get it done.  But I have a winner now.

And the lucky recipient is...


I'm off to send you an e-mail, so please be checking your inbox for it.

Weekly TV Thoughts - May 16th

Phew, I made it.  Between season finale and The Disney Channel's week long season premier of Girl Meets World, there was a lot of TV to be watched this week.  Glad I got it all in.  But seriously, why couldn't they have scheduled the all week premier for next week?  Consult me next time, okay?

Once Upon a Time – That was just as much fun as I’d hoped it would be.  Seeing everyone switched was great, and the actors obviously had fun playing against type.  I also enjoyed watching where the characters we already knew were going to pop up.  But that ending!  Wasn’t expecting that at all.  It will be interesting to see where they go with this next season.  You can read my full recap here.

Dancing with the Stars – Wow, all of those performances were incredible.  Seriously, anyone could win it.  I expected Noah to be the one to leave, so I was surprised that he stuck around.  Instead it was Derek and his partner.  While I love them, it’s actually nice not to see Derek in the finals for a change.  I don’t know who I’m rooting for to win.  They’re just all so good.

Girl Meets World (5/11) – The best part of that may have been the opening scene talking about Mr. Feeny.  The first scene was pretty funny as well.  Not as impressed with the bakery scenes, although the last scene was very touching.  And I like that Maya’s mom is working there now, too.  I hope we see more of her character.

Castle – I would have been okay with that as a series finale.  Of course, I’m thrilled the show is coming back, however.  And we got a little Castle backstory, which was interesting.  You can read my full recap here.

Girl Meets World (5/12) – Much funnier episode.  I think Maya stole the show with her reaction to the diamond ring, although Riley and Lucas’s awkward date was pretty funny as well.  And what is with Auggie and his weird friends?

The Flash – I’m surprised by what they did with that episode.  What does it mean for next week’s season finale?  And what kind of consequences is Barry about to unleash by trying to save his mom?  So we have the metahumans back out and two people rode in to save the day with Barry.  I’m curious where they will go with this next season and next week.

Agents of SHIELD – Yeah, they have too many characters.  I found myself caring about what happened about half of the time.  I’ll give the show a few episode next season to see if it improves, but I might not stick around.  After all, I’ve got plenty of shows to watch next year. It’s not that the show is bad, it’s just not that great either.

Arrow – So how are they going to come back next year?  Because I could almost feel that being a series finale.  What happened to Ray at the end there?  And how is that going to play into the spin off series?  Can’t wait to hear more about all of that.

Young and Hungry – I’m sorry, but I can’t get over the name of the guy.  Rueben, who makes his living as a sandwich.  Cheesy, but I like it.

Girl Meets World (5/13) – Best episode of the season so far.  Hilarious, and they give Lucas an interesting backstory.  Not completely sure how that fits in with what we learned about him last season.  They really appear to be working on making him an interesting character this season, and I’m very glad to see it.  Still, my favorite scene were the ones at the house.  Everyone had me in stitches.

Survivor – Yes, I feel a little bad for Dan, but only a little.  Mike is a lot more powerful than anyone is giving him credit for being.  Okay, he’s also getting luckier, but still.  And Carolyn definitely knows which side she stands on at this point.  But really, I want whiney Rodney to go next.  Pretty please with a reward on top?

The Odd Couple – So where is Felix going to go from here?  It would be interesting to see him in a relationship.  Was not expecting that this soon into the series.  I’m surprised at how much I’ve enjoyed this show.  Definitely looking forward to it coming back in 2016.

Girl Meets World (5/14) – Oh the tears.  I’m interested to see what they do with Shawn this season since I know Angela is coming back.  They’d better not break Maya’s heart.  That’s all I’m saying.

The Amazing Race – I’m so glad the right team won.  Actually, I would have been okay with the Truck Drivers as well, although they had to keep the streak of the saved team still getting eliminated.  Not that it was there fault at all.  They just had horrid luck with cab drivers.  But the other teams sniped at each other so much, okay, the women did the sniping.  So glad it was Hayley who lost them the race, too.  She so deserved that.

Girl Meets World (5/15) – How could I not see the point they were going for in that episode earlier?  Maybe because I was too busy laughing.  Eric was over the top stupid (I don’t remember him being that stupid before, even in season seven), but it was still so funny.

Friday, May 15, 2015

May 15th's Book Beginnings and Friday 56

Welcome again to Friday, which means Book Beginnings and Friday 56.

I've got to admit, I'm in a bit of a quandery this week.  While both books I could have pulled from had great openings, their pages 56 were only okay from a teaser quote perspective.  I decided to go with my current read, As Gouda as Dead by Avery Aames, which I hope to finish up today.

The book jumps right in:

"Where are you taking me?" I asked.  "And don't 'Hush, Charlotte' me again."

That's definitely an attention grabber, right?

Page 56 is the beginning of Chapter 9, and I'm going to use the first couple of lines from that chapter:

"What?" Tyanne and Rebecca shrieked in unison.
I held my hands in a T for timeout while glancing around the shop.

So, tell me, how does that second quote grab you?

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Book Review: The Final Reveille by Amanda Flower (Living History Museum Mysteries #1)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Fun setting for a complex mystery
Cons: A tad slow to start; Kelsey’s early reaction to one character
The Bottom Line:
The heir gets murdered
With battlefield of suspects
Promising debut

Current Death in Living History

I’ve always enjoyed history, so I always enjoyed the various living history museums that my family visited over the years while I was growing up.  A new mystery series set at one seemed like a perfect series to tempt me, and The Final Reveille was as fun as I’d hoped it would be.

Kelsey Cambridge run the Barton Farm in northern Ohio.  Normally, the museum is a collection of houses and shops with various interpreters who demonstrate what life was like during the early 1800’s.  However this weekend, the museum is hosting a Civil War reenactment on the empty fields adjacent to the museum’s town as an added draw.

While all this is happening, Cynthia Cherry and her nephew Maxwell come for a visit.  She’s a patron of many things in the area, but her generosity has helped Kelsey make many needed improvements to the museum.  During the visit, Maxwell pulls Kelsey aside and tells her that he is taking over Cynthia’s charitable foundation, and he intends to cut back on many of the causes that Cynthia has supported over the years, including the museum.

When the reveille coming from the reenactor’s came awakens Kelsey the next morning, she quickly discovers one of the soldiers bending over the dead body of Maxwell.  Just as quickly, the police zero in on Kelsey as a suspect.  With her freedom on the line, she must find out what really happened to Maxwell.  Can she do it?

I felt like the book started a little slowly, but that was needed time to introduce us to the museum and the characters.  Things were definitely happening, however, and it wasn’t too long before the plot picked up the pace, giving us some nice clues and motives for the murder.  While I did suspect the killer before the end, I wasn’t completely sure until everything was revealed.  Even so, there were a couple of details that weren’t explained, but it took me almost 24 hours after finishing the book to realize that.  That’s how small they are.

I’m so used to young single protagonists that it was a nice change of pace to follow Kelsey around.  She’s divorced with a five-year-old son, and that added a new layer to the book and some interesting sub-plots.  The story was filled with great people who came fully to life as the book progressed, and I can’t wait to see many of them again in future books.  I did feel that Kelsey was too harsh toward a new potential love interest early on in the book.  I get that she didn’t trust him at that point, but her reactions still seemed too harsh.  That didn’t last long, and it is my only complaint where characters are concerned.

This is not Amanda Flower’s first book, and it shows.  The writing was great at setting the scene and making Kelsey’s love of history contagious.  In fact, I’m wishing I had a historical fiction book lined up next on my To Be Read pile (another favorite way to experience history).

Any issues I had with this book are truly small.  Overall, I enjoyed this first book with a great new protagonist.  The Final Reveille will not be the final book I read in this series.

NOTE: I was sent an ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Ornament Review: Goofy the Graduate

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Classy looking graduate ornament with unlikely character
Cons: Twists when put in display
The Bottom Line:
Goofy, diploma
Mark this spring rite of passage
Goofy against type

Goofy Graduates!

Goofy is my favorite of Mickey and his friends, so my biggest complaint has been that he only makes one appearance in the Year of Disney Magic series from Hallmark.  But he’s finally here and I can now enjoy Goofy The Graduate.

For this ornament, Goofy is dressed in graduation gown and hat.  It’s a dark blue – almost purple – in color, and you can see a gold stripe down the middle.  He’s holding a rolled up scroll and standing on some large but thin books.

My biggest question is why Goofy is involved in a graduation ornament.  But considering we have Donald being thankful and lucky in this series, we’ll just add Goofy to the list of those playing against type, right?

I definitely do like this ornament.  Even though it is Goofy, he brings a level of class to the ornament.  Possibly because, being the tallest character, this ornament looks taller than many of the others.  Tall means classy, right?  Just ask all those Greek columns.  There’s also a little white tassel hanging down the left side of the hat.  Actually, it’s mostly on the top of the hat and just barely sticking down below.  Either way, I just love that added touch.

Since Goofy is standing on flat books, the ornament is not going to tip over, so you can set it out anywhere you want to add a nice touch to a grad party decoration or some other display.

Which might be a good thing.  At least on mine, the hook on the top of Goofy’s hat is turned so that I can’t hang him straight in my ornament display stand.  Still not quite sure what I am going to do about that, but having him look to the right of the rest of the ornaments is a disappointment.  There is no tipping when you hang the ornament, which is a good thing.  I just wish he faced forward.

We’re almost done with this series, which means you can find an 11 in a Christmas tree on the bottom of the books Goofy is standing on.

The disappointing twist is the only flaw I can find with Goofy The Graduate.  Or maybe that’s not a flaw but Goofy just being, well, goofy.

What could be more magical than the entire Year of Disney Magic?

Original Price: $12.95

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Announcing a Winner

We have a winner in the contest I was doing for Musseled Out by Barbara Ross.  And that winner is...

Katherine P!

Congrats!  I just sent you an e-mail, so please get in touch with me so I can connect you with your prize.

Don't forget, there are still a few more days to enter the giveaway for One Foot in the Grape.

Book Review: 14th Deadly Sin by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro (Women's Murder Club #14)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Action and twists to strong stories
Cons: Two characters underserved; weaker characters overall
The Bottom Line:
Hang on for fun plot
As plot based thrills continue
All fans will enjoy

Deadly Game of Cops and Robbers

I’ve gotten so I really look forward to my annual visit with the ladies of the Women’s Murder Club.  While these aren’t the best books I read, they are always fun and fast paced.  14th Deadly Sin is the latest, and a great example of strengths and weaknesses of the series.

There have recently been a couple of robberies in San Francisco where the robbers were wearing masks and SFPD jackets.  However, the case gains momentum when the owner of the latest store hit is killed.  Lindsay Boxer lands the case and must work with robbery to find these men.  Are they really cops or just disguising themselves as such?

 Meanwhile, Lindsay’s husband Joe becomes obsessed with a string of murders that take place every year in broad daylight on Claire’s birthday.  With no witnesses, all but the most recent of these murders have grown cold.  And Yuki has left her job with the DA to work for a non-profit organization.  Her first case for them finds her going up again her old boss as she sues the SFPD for wrongful arrest and death.  Can she win?

There are four main characters in this series, but sadly, the book underserves two of them.  Claire, after getting the ball rolling on the annual murders plot with a casual remark, pretty much disappears again.  But honestly, how long as it been since she had any kind of a good plot?  Likewise, Cindy is sent off on a book tour for much of the book and is irrelevant, although I did love those scenes because of the bookstores that got cameos in the book.  Not all the women getting storylines is a chief complaint of mine in the series time and time again, so fans of the series won’t find it new.

However, the stories we do get are fast paces as always.  There are plenty of twists that kept me turning pages, and the further into the book I got, the less I wanted to put it down.  The story does end with a bit of a cliffhanger, and it makes me want to visit the next in the series soon.  If only it were out already.

While I complained a moment ago that some of the characters are underserved, the characters we do see are perfectly in character.  The emphasis is on the plot, but we are given just enough about the characters to truly come to care for them and root for them to solve the cases and come out alive.

After listening to most of Michael Connelly’s Lincoln Lawyer novels in the last year, I found Yuki’s courtroom scenes especially interesting.  They are definitely legal thriller light when compared to Connelly’s books but that makes sense because they only take up part of the book.  Still, I could identify a bit more what was going on and appreciate some of the strategy that wasn’t discussed but obvious to me now.

As always, about two thirds of the book is narrated by Lindsay in first person with other chunks being told in third person by various characters, both good and bad.  The short chapters help the 350 pages fly by thanks to the added white space it provides.

While the series can be uneven, this is definitely one of the better books in the series.  If you are a fan, you’ll be glad you picked up 14th Deadly Sin.

Here are the Women's Murder Club Mysteries in order.

Monday, May 11, 2015

TV Recap: Castle 7-23 - Hollander's Woods

Don’t get me wrong – I’m thrilled Castle is coming back next season.  I’ve actually enjoyed this season over the last few, although I know many people were turned off by the Castle Disappearance storyline and dropped the show.  But, if the show were to end right here, I wouldn’t have minded at all.  That was a lovely final episode, and I could walk away happy.

Not that I’m planning to stop watching the show.  More quips and clues?  Sign me up!

Earlier this season, we’d gotten a mention of Hollander’s Woods as something from Castle’s past, and tonight, we learn what that was.  When he was an 11-year-old boy, he went into the woods during President’s Day weekend and found a dead body.  Then a man in a creepy mask warned him to run and stay silent about what he’d found.  He did report it to the police, but no body or proof was ever found.  Castle was beginning to think he’d made it all up, until a victim is found outside some woods in New York.  The markings on her face are the same as Castle remembers, and the truck driver who accidentally hit the victim as she was fleeing describes the same mask.

TV Recap: Once Upon a Time 4-21 - Operation Mongoose

Wow.  That was as much fun as I expected, but that ending was wild (if not quite the series changer we were promised).  Is it next season yet?

Before we get there, let’s recap what we saw in this alternative universe.

We start with the Author, aka Isaac, in our world in the 1960’s.  He’s a frustrated writer selling TV’s for a living until the day he gets an offer from the Sorcerer’s Apprentice to write down fairy tales.  Of course, we all know how that turned out.

In our world in the present day, everyone is trying to figure out how to stop him.  They’re looking through the books in the Sorcerer’s house, but those books are all empty.  August shows up and explains that the Apprentice might be able to stop him, and Hook recognizes the picture of the man, so the Apprentice finally gets to come out of the Hat.  Unfortunately, by the time he comes out of the Hat, it’s too late, and Isaac has finished his rewrite, taking everyone to the alternative world.

Everyone, that is, but Isaac and Henry.  Henry finds himself the only one is Storybrooke, and he soon leaves town searching for his family.  As he’s searching, he finds Isaac’s book (now in paperback!) entitles Heroes and Villains.  Henry tracks Isaac to a book signing (where he is signing hardcovers - explain that one to me).  A confrontation leads to the original Heroes and Villains book where Isaac wrote down the story.  Henry uses the key, and he and Isaac are sucked in to that copy of the book.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Book Review: Evil Spy School by Stuart Gibbs (Spy School #3)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Engaging story and characters wrapped in humor
Cons: Any cons are redacted
The Bottom Line:
Ben undercover
Must dig to find the secrets
Thrilling us again

Ben Finally Accepts His Place in SPYDER

I have yet to be disappointed with any of Stuart Gibbs’s books, and considering how many he’s written at this point, that’s saying something.  He’s returning to the world of spies in training with Evil Spy School, which takes Ben Ripley, his thirteen-year-old spy in training to the last place we ever expected him to go.

It’s time for a new school year, and Ben is enrolling in the Wiseman Preparatory Academy.  No, this isn’t the new cover name for the spy school he attended last semester.  This is the name of evil organization SPYDER’s school to train future agents to carry out their evil purposes.  Ben has finally accepted SPYDER’s offer to join the dark side, but only after he was kicked out of the CIA’s spy school for something that was only partially his fault.

Really, Ben thinks he is on an undercover assignment.  At least, he hopes he’s on an undercover assignment.  With no way to contact anyone outside of his new school, he’s only guessing at what he’s supposed to be doing.  Can Ben learn what SPYDER’s latest plans are?  If so, can he get the word to anyone in time to foil them?

This book takes Ben away from the familiar faces, at least for a large portion of the action.  However, the new characters we meet are pretty interesting, and this more than makes up for any loss.  In fact, these new characters are so interesting I hope we get to meet up with them in future installments in the series.  Meanwhile, Ben continues to be a fun main character, and we might have seen some growth in Erica, the super spy that Ben has a crush on.

The story moves forward at a steady pace, providing some clues and questions.  With about a third of the book left, things really explode and it becomes a fast paced sprint to the end.  Along the way, everything that has happened before comes back into play.

Those familiar with the series will be expecting a liberal dose of humor, and they won’t be disappointed.  I smiled and laughed at some of the situations and banter along the way.  In fact, I had to share a couple bits with a friend in the break room at work, and she enjoyed it as well.  I know that the target audience will definitely enjoy the laughs along the way.

Great plot, fun characters, and humor.  This book really does have it all.  Don’t hesitate to enroll in Evil Spy School today.  You’ll be thrilled you did.

And you'll want to read the rest of the Spy School series in order.

This is part of this week's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday.  Be sure to check out the other stories.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

May 9th's Weekly TV Thoughts

Next week is going to be killer.  I'm already dreading all the cliffhangers!  And it looks like all my shows are getting renewed for next season as well.  Since there are at least two shows I need to start watching next season, I'm not sure how that is going to work.  I don't have time for any more TV shows!

Once Upon a Time – They wrapped up a lot I wasn’t expecting, but that leaves us wide open for some fun next week.  I think I’m really going to enjoy the twist on the characters we will get thanks to Gold’s rewrite.  You can read my full recap here.

Dancing with the Stars – Nastia’s trio dance was a bit unfair to everyone else since she has been training with Sasha all along and even competed with him two weeks.  Having said that, I agree with the judges that it was wonderful.  I really do agree with the judges for the most part on the dancing and scores, in fact.  I wasn’t that surprised with who got eliminated.  Yes, they are both getting better, but they are also the weakest of the group that danced on Monday.

Castle – What was up with that cameo!  This show is above that.  The mystery was fine, but that cameo really, really bugged me.  Read more of my rantwith my full recap.

The Flash – So I get that Grodd is a big part of Flash’s story and history, but I was less than impressed.  In fact, it felt like it was forced into the storyline of the season at this point.  I’ll be interested to see if they work him in better in the future or what.

Agents of SHIELD – Well, I knew that meeting would end badly.  It just didn’t end badly for the person I thought it would.  Next week should prove interesting, that for sure.

Arrow – I’ll admit, I think I’m getting a little tired of this storyline and the darkness.  However, Oliver working from the inside to take down the league is interesting.  I figured it had to be something like that.  The cliffhanger at the end sure got me.  What in the world is Oliver up to?

Survivor – Really?  You know someone has a hidden immunity idol, and you still all vote for him?  I’m sorry, but that’s the stupidest move of all time.  Yes, even more stupid than being voted out with two idols in your pocket and giving up immunity and then being voted out COMBINED!!  Also, Rodney, quit whining.  It’s unattractive in an adult.

Young and Hungry – How can something that seems like such a good idea go so horribly wrong?  And what are the odds?  Only on TV, right?

Big Bang Theory – I sometimes feel that writers leave things open when they aren’t sure what to do with the story next and want a few months to decide.  That’s definitely the case with Penny and Leonard here.  I was certainly surprised that Sheldon had a ring for Amy.  I’ll be interested to see that develop next season.

The Odd Couple – Two episodes and some good laughs.  I do like Merv, but I also like that actor, so it’s nice to find him on a new show.  I hope he sticks around long term (assuming the show sticks around long term).  They seem to be developing an ensemble comedy.  It makes me curious what the original show was like.

The Amazing Race – So now they give us the “still racing” bit and the mid-leg elimination again.  It will be interesting if someone other than the last place teams gets eliminated this time around since, so far this season, the non-elimination legs haven’t mattered in the end.  It looked to me like the waves at the Road Block got worse as the day went on.  Another reason to get there early, I guess.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Book Review: One Foot in the Grape by Carlene O'Neil (Cypress Cover Mysteries #1)

Stars: 4 out of 5
: Strong characters in a twisty plot
Cons: Timeline issues early on, but don’t affect story
The Bottom Line:
Some sabotaged wine
Are the prelude to murder
Page turning debut

A Grape Debut

It’s confession time.  Even though I grew up in the heart of the Sonoma/Napa wine country, I do not like wine.  Go figure, right?  But when I met author Charlene O’Neal at Bouchercon last November, I knew I had to give her new series a try.  Having just finished One Foot in the Grape, I can say that you are in for a grape ride when you pick it up.

Penny Lively has returned to the coastal town of Cyprus Cove, California, to run the winery she has inherited from the great-aunt who raised her.  She is handling the business side of things while her niece, Hayley, and her winery manager, Connor, are handling growing the grapes and the wines themselves.

Trouble arrives in the form of Antonia Martinelli, a distant relative who runs the largest winery in the area.  Someone has been sabotaging the wines that Martinelli Winery produces, however, and Antonia is afraid if the culprit isn’t caught the damage will ruin the family name.  Despite Antonia’s difficult and prickly reputation, Penny agrees to investigate only to find a dead body before she can gather any clues.  Is the murder connected to the sabotage?  Can Penny find the killer without any harm coming to her?

Let’s just start by getting my complaint out of the way, okay?  The days of the week and the timeline seemed to be all over the place in the first few chapters.  It felt like the days of the early events in the story changed, and not everything was blended into the revision correctly.  However, as the book progressed, that issue went away, and it never had any impact on the story.

And the story here is great.  There are many viable suspects with great motives, and the twists and turns kept me guessing until the very end, yet everything made sense.  A few scenes had me turning pages as fast as I could to find out how Penny would escape the danger she was facing.

I always like it when the suspects are strong because it makes the conflict feel real and it keeps me confused.  The suspects here were awesome.  I could feel the tension in a few of the early scenes, and once the murder happens, that tension continued to build.  The rest of the characters were fine as well, and I’m looking forward to seeing them developed more in future books.

In fact, I’m looking forward to seeing more of Penny’s family tree explained in future books as well.  I’m a bit curious about family relationships based on what little we do learn here.  However, none of that background is needed to enjoy this book, and I actually appreciate the fact that the author didn’t slow down the story for a back story data dump.  I’m sure we will get the answers in future books.

And I will be back for future books.  Overall, One Foot in the Grape is a strong debut that promises many more fun mysteries to come.

NOTE: I was sent a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.


Thanks to the publisher, I have one copy of this book to give away.  Because it is a physical book, the contest is limited to residence of the US.

Leave me a comment with your e-mail address so I can get in touch with you.  I will pick the winner next Friday, May 15th, so please leave your comment before 12:01AM on 5/15.

May 8th's Book Beginnings and Friday 56

Friday has rolled around again, so it's time for Book Beginnings and Friday 56.

This week, I'm going with Middle School novel Evil Spy School by Stuart Gibbs.

This is the third in a very fun series, and the Spy School series will be debuting on the New York Times best seller list on Sunday!  I've been reading Stuart Gibbs since his very first book came out, so I am thrilled for him.  They really are fun for all ages.  I've enjoyed them.

I mean, really, how can you pass up quotes like these.  Here's the opening.

I ran as fast as my legs could carry me, seven enemy agents in hot pursuit.

I'm going to cheat a little on the Friday 56 and use this quote from page 53 just because I loved it so much.

"'s kind of like evil spy school," I said.
Joshua frowned.  "I suppose.  Although we prefer to call it the Wiseman Preparatory Academy."
"Because 'Evil Spy School' sounds a little suspicious, don't you think?"

Seriously, if you are looking to get books for any middle graders in your life for the summer, check out Stuart's books.  I'll be reviewing this one on Sunday.

And if you are looking for the cozies I often feature, be sure to check out the two reviews with giveaways I have going on right now.  There's Musseled Out (which I featured for last week's Book Beginning and Friday 56) and One Foot in the Grape.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Music Review: Live Forever by Matthew West

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Fun music and encouraging lyrics
Cons: None
The Bottom Line:
True stories in song
Made to encourage, uplift
Another great disc

More Hope from the Lives of Others

I wonder if Matthew West quite realized what a concept he had when he set out to create a release of songs inspired by the lives of his fans.  It proved to be such a huge hit that Live Forever is the third release he’s done this way.  And it’s just as great as the first two were.

The thing that makes these projects work is that Matthew is able to take these stories and make the themes of God’s redemption universal.  In fact, the stories aren’t included in the booklet, although you can go to his website to read them.  However, outside of a couple specific songs, I really don’t get much of the specifics behind the songs.  And even when we have specific details, the lesson is still universal.

And those messages?  They are outstanding.  The title track encourages us to live for eternity and not the pleasures of this world.  Along a similar line, “World Changers” celebrates those who do work hard to help others whether they are recognized for it or not.

A huge theme one again is God’s grace in the face of our sins.  It pops up time and time again on such songs as “Day One,” “The List,” and “Grace Wins.”  Yet each of them is different in their approach.  “Day One” is about moving forward and not letting the mistakes of the past tie you down today.  “The List” reminds us that “Love keeps no record of wrong,” so we shouldn’t either.  And “Grace Wins” is written from the perspective of someone who has hit rock bottom only to have God’s grace restore them.

But my favorite song with this theme is “Mended.”  This one is written from God’s point of view and reminds us just how powerful His love and grace can be.  “When you see broken beyond repair/I see healing beyond belief/When you see too far gone/I see one step away from home.”  The Bible and the world are filled with people God redeemed from situations everyone else said were impossible, and it’s always great to be reminded of that.

In a different vein, there’s “Tryin’” which tells the story of someone who is no longer attempting to conform to the world’s standards for anything but instead accepting who God made them to be.

The song that is most obviously tied to a story is “Anything is Possible” which tells the story of a woman who has risen from prison to a steady job, a house, and a daughter she loves.  Matthew actually speaks the verses, which makes it a bit different and put me off at first, but I’ve found it has really grown on me.

And I’ve got to touch on the final two songs.  “Oh, Me of Little Faith” is a wonderful confession of weakness be it doubt, hopelessness, worry, or any other form of weakness.  And yet, God is there no matter what we are going through.  As the chorus says, “Lord, I believe, but/Help my unbelief ‘cause/Trust and fear are fighting.”  That’s me all too often.

Finally, there’s the anthem “Heaven is the Hope,” which circles back around to the first song and reminds us that this world is not all there is.  Instead, we have God’s promise of life as it was meant to be lived in his presence in Heaven forever. 

And yes, Matthew keeps his tradition of a hidden track by his daughters at the end.  They are definitely growing up.

Musically, this is a typical soft rock release.  Most of the songs are upbeat with a few mid-tempo tracks in there.  The slowest track is the guitar based ballad “Oh, Me of Little Faith,” which is still an up-tempo ballad.  There’s plenty of guitar, piano, and drums on all the tracks.  And yet, the more I’ve listened to the disc, the more distinct the songs have become for me.  They don’t run together, and the upbeat nature of the music really drives home the hope of the lyrics.

I’m not sure if Matthew is going to keep going with this route or try something new with his next release, but I’ll be along either way.  His music is fun and encouraging.  I definitely think it will Live Forever.

CD Length: 44:46
1. Live Forever
2. Day One
3. The List
4. World Changers
5. Grace Wins
6. Tryin’
7. Mended
8. Anything is Possible
9. Born for This
10. Oh, Me of Little Faith
11. Heaven is the Hope